The largest Route 91 Harvest festival survivor reunion was held recent. Family members and first responders to the 2017 shooting came together to remember that night when Jason Aldean took the stage.
“We are a family,” said co-organizer Connie Long. “We’ve come together over the past 11 months,” the shooting survivor said.
Long struggled to hold back tears during a recent interview as she explained planning for the reunion began only a month after the shooting. The event was kept secret from the public and invitations were shared in private Facebook groups.
The reunion was held near North Buffalo Drive and West Elkhorn Road and seemed worlds away from the shooting site as the Strip’s skyline was invisible to the people in the park.
The creation of a ‘safe space’ was important from the earliest planning states. Co-organizer, Shawna Bartlett, told reporters “many survivors reached out to express fears about returning to Vegas.”
“We’re hoping the event brings some closer to people — to help them face their fears,” Bartlett told reporters.
With Clark County’s help, Long and Bartlett were able to provide survivors with more than only music, beer and food. The event began at 11 am and lasted 12-hours once the two-hour opening ceremony was finished. City officials made therapy dogs and resources available to attendees.
Many of the vendors, bartenders and volunteers who attended the reunion were at Route 91 last year including veteran Steven Michaels.
Michaels, 45, was among the first responders sent to the shooting. Now, his apparel company, Combat Punk Apparel, was the official shirt vendor for the reunion.
The night of the shooting, Michaels led an armed-response team sent by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Michael’s team helped in looking for what they believed were multiple shooters.
Around 10:00 am, just before the survivors and other first responders would be admitted to the park, Michaels looked at Bartlett and Long. “It means everything to me to continue to be a part of this community,” Michaels said.
Standing next to Long beside a miniature replica of the Community Healing Garden built by a shooting-survivor’s father, Bartlett said, “We hoping today will be a day for each of us to claw back what was taken from us and to hold each other.”
“It was a day not to focus on the guman,” said Nicholas Wooldridge, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney. “It’s a day to focus on healing and remembering.”
Now, almost a year following the shooting, Bartlett and Long still struggle to talk about that night.
“We have found friendship and support in each other,” they said.
No. It wasn’t a concert. It was more of an invitation-only family reunion.
Many of the survivors have years of recovery facing them. Others are finding recovery from the trauma already. Everyone heals at their own rate, but those who enjoy the support of friends and family do better.